Apple have helped changed the conversation, now the rest need to catch up, again.
It’s ironic that Apple have commoditised consumer electronics whilst appearing to do exactly the opposite. During the peak of iPad hype a few weeks back @nickhodge commented that the hardware was not important, that it was all about the aps.. He’s right of course, but I’d go further, it’s about seamless experiences, and how tightly Apple controls those experiences.
Apple is an exceptional manufacturer of Consumer Electronics. They’ve been consistently out-designing every other PC manufacturer for 25 years. They changed the game in ‘98 with the iMAC’s simple coloured plastics and again in ‘01 with the iPOD’s white earbuds.
The iPOD was pivotal, and a key turning point for Apple’s strategy for two main reasons, firstly it became mass market, where Mac had previously occupied a niche category, and secondly it was tied to a service, something considered as incidental by most at launch.
Manufacturers tried in vain to compete with Apple’s player with more storage space, better battery life and improved sound quality, but consumers didn’t care, the iPOD sucked in all three. The white earbuds made the player must-have, but the seismic shift in MP3 players was driven more deeply by the iPOD’s packaging, the industrial design and its seamless integration with iTunes. Apple dominate the space with 80% share of Mobile Music players.
In 2007 the iPhone landed with the Apstore as the killer service. Again, Apple had changed the conversation, but this time in the rapidly growing Smartphone category. Clearly I’m not a fan of the hardware, and not just because of the MSFT coolaid I’ve consumed over the years. Regardless, Apple now dominate this category with 40% share.
This month the iPAD launches and the service story moves forward again. Newspapers, Magazines and Books are added to Music, Movies and Aps. Like the iPOD and iPhone the device is seriously flawed of course, however just like those devices Apple has changed the conversation, Mobile computing is no longer about the hardware, industrial design is just hygiene, service is key.